Alcoholism, now more commonly referred to as Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), is a condition characterized by an individual’s physical dependence on alcohol and their inability to control their drinking habits.
The term also encompasses what used to be known as alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence1.
There are many stages of alcoholism, and it’s important to note that not all individuals who drink alcohol have a problem with alcoholism2. However, certain behaviors can indicate a potential issue,
Binge drinking, a form of alcohol abuse that involves consuming large amounts of alcohol in a short period, can also lead to AUD1. Cravings for alcohol and relapses after periods of sobriety are common in individuals with AUD1.
Mindful drinking, which involves being aware of why, how much, and how often one is drinking, can be a way to maintain a healthy relationship with alcohol4. However, it’s crucial to understand that drinking heavily usually results in a higher blood alcohol concentration, which can lead to severe health issues5.
Finally, it’s worth noting that alcohol is the second most consumed psychoactive substance after caffeine6. As such, understanding the facts about alcohol and its potential for abuse is vital for maintaining one’s health and well-being.
- Family Addiction Specialist ↩ ↩2 ↩3
- Bradford Health ↩
- CBS Philadelphia ↩
- Sunnyside ↩
- CAMH ↩
- The University of Victoria ↩
What is Alcoholism
Alcoholism, also known as Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), is a chronic disease characterized by an individual’s inability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational,
or health consequences. It is not simply a lack of willpower; alcoholism is a serious mental illness with physical effects.
There are several key indicators of alcoholism:
A strong and persistent need, or compulsion, to drink.
Loss of control:
The inability to limit one’s drinking on any given occasion.
Withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety, occur when alcohol use is stopped after a period of heavy drinking.
The need to drink greater amounts of alcohol to get “high.”
It’s important to note that alcoholism is a progressive disorder, which means it tends to worsen over time. Without treatment, it can cause severe health problems and can be potentially life-threatening.
However, with support and treatment, many people can stop drinking and reclaim their lives.
What causes Alcoholism
Alcoholism, or Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), is caused by a combination of genetic, environmental, psychological, and social factors. Here are some of the key contributors:
Research shows that certain genes may increase a person’s risk of developing alcoholism. It is estimated that genetics account for about half of the risk for AUD. However, genetics alone does not determine whether someone will develop AUD.
These include cultural attitudes towards drinking, availability of alcohol, peer pressure, stress, and other life circumstances. People who start drinking at an early age, or who live in a family or culture where heavy drinking is common, are more likely to develop alcohol problems.
Certain mental health conditions, like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia, can increase the risk of AUD. Using alcohol to cope with these conditions can lead to dependence over time.
Social pressure, especially among young people, can be a significant factor. Many people drink to fit in, feel relaxed, or feel more confident in social situations.
Some people have a physical reaction to alcohol that makes them more likely to develop a problem. For example, people who need less alcohol to feel its effects, or those who do not experience hangovers, may be at higher risk.
It’s important to note that while these factors can contribute to the development of AUD, they do not guarantee that a person will develop a drinking problem. Many people with these risk factors do not become alcoholics, and some people develop AUD without any of these risk factors.
What is considered alcoholism?
Alcoholism, medically referred to as Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), is a chronic disease characterized by an inability to stop or control alcohol use despite the negative social, occupational, or health consequences.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) by the American Psychiatric Association outlines specific criteria for AUD. It is considered alcoholism if individuals meet two or more of the following criteria within 12 months:
- They end up drinking more or for a longer time than intended.
- They have tried to cut down or stop drinking more than once but couldn’t.
- They spend a lot of time drinking or being sick from the aftereffects.
- They have a strong urge to drink (cravings).
- Drinking or the aftereffects of drinking often interfere with taking care of their home, work responsibilities, or school.
- They continue to drink even though it causes problems with family or friends.
- They give up or cut back on activities that were important, interesting, or pleasurable to them to drink.
- They have had situations while or after drinking that increased their chances of getting hurt.
- They continue to drink even though it makes them feel depressed and anxious, contributes to another health problem, or after having had a memory blackout.
- They have to drink much more than they once did to get the effect they want, or when they drink the same amount, it has much less effect than before.
- They have withdrawal symptoms when the effects of alcohol are wearing off.
It’s important to note that alcoholism is a serious condition that can lead to severe health issues and can be potentially life-threatening. However, with the appropriate treatment and support, many people are able to overcome alcoholism and reclaim their lives.
Why is alcoholism considered a chronic disease?
Alcoholism, also known as Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), is considered a chronic disease because it has characteristics common to other chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, or asthma. Here are some reasons why alcoholism is classified as a chronic disease:
Like other chronic diseases, AUD often develops over time and can last for a person’s lifetime. It’s not something that can be cured with a one-time treatment or by simply stopping drinking for a short period.
People with AUD often experience relapses, similar to those experienced by people with other chronic health conditions. Even after periods of abstinence, there is always a risk of returning to harmful drinking behaviors.
Impact on health:
Chronic heavy drinking can lead to serious physical health problems, such as liver disease, heart problems, cancer, and neurological damage, much like how uncontrolled diabetes or heart disease can lead to severe health complications.
Requires ongoing management:
Just like diabetes or hypertension, managing AUD often involves long-term treatment strategies, which may include medication, therapy, lifestyle changes, and support from health professionals.
There is a genetic component to AUD, much like many other chronic diseases. Certain genes can make a person more susceptible to developing alcoholism, although genetics alone doesn’t guarantee this outcome.
It appears that there are several medications available for treating alcohol use disorder. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved three of them: acamprosate, disulfiram, and naltrexone1.
Other medications used commonly include topiramate and gabapentin2. It’s important to note that these aren’t the only methods of treatment available. Treatment options depend on the extent of your drinking and whether you’re trying to drink less (in moderation) or give up drinking completely 3.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) also offers a National Helpline that provides free, confidential treatment referral and information services4.
Medications can be a helpful tool in the fight against alcoholism, but they should be used in conjunction with other treatments such as counseling or support groups5. It’s also important to consult with a healthcare provider to determine the best course of treatment.
It’s worth mentioning that alcohol use disorder is a serious medical condition. It involves heavy or frequent alcohol drinking even when it causes negative consequences 6.
Remember, it’s never too late to seek help for alcohol use disorder. There are numerous resources available to assist you on your journey to recovery.
Alcoholism is a serious condition with far-reaching consequences that can impact every aspect of an individual’s life.
It carries a significant physical, emotional, and societal cost. However, it’s essential to remember that recovery is possible, and numerous resources are available to help individuals overcome their addiction.
Treatment typically involves a comprehensive approach, including detoxification, counseling and therapy, support groups, medication, and sober living assistance.
These elements work together to address the various facets of addiction, from physical dependency to psychological triggers.
Recovery is a journey that requires commitment, patience, and resilience.
It may be challenging, and there will be ups and downs, but with the right support and resources, individuals can achieve sobriety and reclaim control over their lives.
Remember, it’s never too late to seek help. If you or someone you know is struggling with alcoholism,
reach out to a healthcare professional or a trusted person in your life. Together, you can start the journey towards recovery. The road to sobriety may be long, but it’s a journey worth taking.
From The Author
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